Chris Collins secures another term despite indictment

While I dislike reusing an opening line for a column, this merits the offense. I bet you thought the midterm elections were over, didn’t you?

Given how much time I spent covering the congressional race in NY-27 here, believe me when I say that I was as surprised as anyone to see this headline in the New York Times. “Chris Collins Overcomes Indictment, Absentee Ballots, to Capture 4th House Term.” Given the fact that Democrat Nate McMurray had conceded the race on election night, I’d simply moved on along with everyone else and begun watching the rest of the contested races. Turns out it was closer than originally thought and McMurray withdrew his concession. The final counting took until this past Friday to wrap up, but in the end, Collins still prevailed by a rather thin margin.

Representative Chris Collins was narrowly re-elected to a fourth term, overcoming his indictment on insider trading charges and a prolonged vote count that left him with more than a 2,500-vote cushion.

Mr. Collins, a Republican from Western New York, defeated Nate McMurray, the Democratic town supervisor of Grand Island, N.Y., The Associated Press declared on Friday. Mr. McMurray had initially conceded the race on Election Day, but reconsidered the next morning, saying the race was “too close to call.”

The race represented a startling turnaround for Mr. Collins, who had withdrawn from the contest in the 27th District after his indictment in August.

As you no doubt know by now, Congressman Collins was indicted on insider trading charges over the summer. He initially suspended his campaign, leaving the local Republican parties scrambling to find a replacement. Then, after waiting far too long, he announced that he was still running for another term in what was suddenly a very close race where the GOP risked losing a seat with a huge generic ballot advantage for Republicans.

So the Republicans didn’t wind up losing NY-27, but now there’s a new wrinkle in the story. In his announcement after securing the win, Collins informed the public that he planned to continue serving and his first court date on the insider trading charges isn’t until 2020. (He didn’t mention specifically when in 2020.) I’d originally assumed that the overall plan was for Collins to win, then go to trial next year. If he somehow wasn’t convicted he could continue serving. If he was, he could resign and the Governor would have to call a special election and the GOP would still keep the seat.

This throws a wrench in the works. Collins may have won, but he’s severely wounded politically. (He raised a grand total of eighty dollars in campaign funds from individual donors between the announcement of his arrest and the election.) If this trial is going to play out right in the middle of the heat of the 2020 election cycle and Collins shows no signs of resigning, the Democrats will have another bite at that apple.

Given how many seats the GOP already lost in New York during the midterms, the last thing they need is to lose the 27th District on top of that. I understand that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and if Chris Collins wants to continue serving while he defends himself in court, that’s his prerogative. But if his legal team doesn’t see a real opportunity for him to beat the charges, it might be in the better interests of the party to simply announce that this will be his last term either way and let some other Republicans begin preparing for the primary.